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The Consumerization of Healthcare

While Healthcare is sometimes criticized as being behind other industries when it comes to technology, being behind this can have advantages. The first is that early adopters in other industries have worked the kinks out of new models like Saas or not-new models like single-sign-on. The second is that you can understand how technology and usage might evolve by seeing what happened in other industries, and the third is that you can skip steps in technical evolution and potentially move faster. This is what’s happening with the Consumerization of Healthcare IT, as evidenced by the proliferation of mobile and consumer-facing health technologies, topics at a few key healthcare events I’ve attended lately, and conversations I’ve had with senior healthcare leaders.

The concept of consumerization is the idea that consumer perceptions, expectations, and consumer technology can have an impact on an industry. This sometimes results in direct applications, like “it’s Uber for ambulances” or “Netflix for CPE credits” but more frequently it’s a subtle shift in thinking.

When I was working at Microsoft preparing for the launch of Office 2010, the consumerization of IT was a major theme of the release. We talked about the influence of the expectations of end-users on the tools they used every day: users were always on and always connected and they expected the same of their companies. We talked about the impact of BYOD on security and also the expectations to be able to communicate and collaborate from anywhere. The same is happening in healthcare today. Patients and physicians alike want to be able to communicate in the ways they communicate elsewhere and wonder why they can’t. They want applications that are as easy to understand and interact with as those on their phones.

One health system CIO I spoke to recently envisioned providing a “productivity stipend” and enabling all his staff to use whatever type of computer and smartphone they wanted. He would make sure they kept patient-health information secure but they would be responsible for choosing and maintaining their devices. Where BYOD was seen as a threat back in 2010, it’s now an opportunity. (I checked in with some of my former colleagues and they are seeing BYOD for phones but not computers, so this CIO is ahead of the industry pack and could even be seen as an example of skipping a step.)

When we started Wellpepper a little over three years ago, people commented on how patient-friendly and patient-focused our software was, and how it was a shame because it didn’t really matter what patients thought or what the patient experience was. (Not everyone said this, but we did hear it more than you’d hope.) Today, leaders in the industry are laser-focused on the patient/consumer experience. There are a number of reasons for that, which are both carrots and sticks.

  • Meaningful Use, while not always driving the best technology, has put an emphasis on communicating electronically with patients
  • High-deductible plans have made patients into consumers, carefully evaluating the service and value they can get for their healthcare dollars
  • New technology players like ZocDoc with online scheduling and MDLive with telemedicine delivered at Walgreens have trained people to expect on-demand services
  • New care delivery players like Iora and Zoom+ have set expectations for wellness and preventative care, and have attracted healthcare professionals who want to practice differently
  • We are all consumers. These supercomputers in our pockets and the constant connection and sharing they provide, and the ease of use of the applications that run on them have trained us to expect the same in our healthcare whether we are patients or providers.

At two recent conferences, I participated in conversations about the consumerization of healthcare service and tools. At the annual Health Evolution Partners Summit in Laguna Beach I had the opportunity to participate in a workshop where we were asked to imagine what it would be like if healthcare were run by customer-focused brands like Nordstrom, Amazon, Apple, and Uber for example.

@griotsyeye draws the consumer revolution in healthcare

@griotsyeye draws the consumer revolution in healthcare

At a local Seattle event hosted by the University of Washington Foster School of Business and sponsored by Providence Healthcare and Premera, I participated on a panel with Bill Frerichs, VP of Clinic Operations from Zoom+ and Paul Stoddart, VP of Marketing for Providence, and hosted by Curtis Kopf, VP of Customer Experience, Premera Blue Cross. We had all joined healthcare from other industries: Bill from running Target’s Store Operations and Paul from Microsoft, like me. We had all had personal experiences that had moved us into healthcare to try to change the system from within. Similar to many that choose healthcare as a career from day 1, we had become vocation-driven.

While it’s easy to come up with ideas for how healthcare can improve by looking at the customer focus from other industries as we did in these two sessions, for example, taking a concierge model like Nordstrom’s personal shopper or pattern-matching what’s important to each patient like Amazon’s “people like you also bought”, or using data to predict pregnancy like Target, it’s important to remember two things. First, if history of adoption of technology is any indicator, healthcare will evolve like other industries and will move to the cloud and more end-user and patient-friendly tools. It’s already happening. And second, that we need to remember the goals of healthcare while transferring best practices from other industries, and emulate only what’s best in healthcare settings: compassion and care, not greed and a ‘gig-based’ economy that is sometimes the focus in other industries. As well, while patients want to share data with their care teams, they want this data protected and used appropriately. Those who question the status quo, embrace change, and yet do it while remaining true to the ideals of healthcare should be the winners in this new consumerized world.

Posted in: Healthcare Disruption, Healthcare Technology, Healthcare transformation, M-health, patient engagement, Patient Satisfaction

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